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Seven Unmissable Documentary Films of 2020

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During the content-consumption mania that 2020 has been, online streaming platforms have come up with deep and insightful documentary films- some topical, others gripping- to ensure that audiences get a take of a different reality.

Some of these documentaries, like The Social Dilemma, have jolted audiences and made them question their presence, the hours they spend and the content they post on social media. Others, like A Secret Love, have helped one grow more empathetic. 

To keep up with the year’s highlights, Silverscreen India lists out seven best documentaries that you can watch before the year ends.

1. The Social Dilemma

If you feel that your phone spies on you in its free time, then give this documentary a watch. Directed by Jeff Orlowski and streaming on Netflix, this documentary will tell you exactly how and why tech giants from the Silicon Valley manipulate users and further the addiction to smartphones. Its one-and-a-half hour run time includes interviews with top-level former employees of companies, like Facebook and Google, who speak on the process and deliberate activities of their ex employers to ensure one continues to pick up the phone and scroll through social media even when they don’t have to. This revelation is backed by a parallel fictional drama, which helps a layperson understand the technical implications of the expert reveal. 

The film had its fair share of controversy as it received a seven-page criticism by Facebook. In the document, Facebook called out the Netflix show as a conspiracy documentary which buries the subject in sensationalism. Ethics and addictions come alive in this documentary. 

2. Trial By Media

There have been many incidents when the final verdict by the judiciary of a country and formation of popular opinion has been manipulated based on the media attention given to the subject. Trial By Media, streaming on Netflix, gives a reality check to the ways in which stories get reported, broadcasted and coloured in the process by the media. This six-part series, directed by filmmakers Skye Borgman, Garrett Bradley, Yance Ford, Brain McGinn, Sierra Pettengill, and Tony Yacenda depicts cases in the US, where media involvement has led to change in the final verdict of a case. Audiences across the globe can relate to the crux of the story, the widespread perception of guilt or innocence before or after the verdict in the court of law.

It covers popular and controversial cases in the US, like the that of the Jenny Jones Show and the murder involvement, Bernard Goetz shooting four black teenagers on a New York City Subway in 1984, and an unarmed Amadou Diallo killed by 41 shots fired by four white policemen.   

3. A Secret Love

(credit- Netflix)

The documentary is a tear-jerker tale of two women- Pat Henschel and Terry Donahue- and their decade-long love secret. Directed by Chris Bolan, who is the great-grandnephew of Donahue, the documentary captures the 72 years of togetherness of this lesbian couple from Canada, who in their early 20s shifted to Chicago.

In the runtime of 1 hour 22 minutes, Henschel and Donahue’s life, hidden sexuality, coming out, and the history of discrimination against lesbian couples has been explored tidily, with myriad emotions attached to it. Taking the timeline from 1947 to the present, this documentary on Netflix shows the plight of lesbian community over the ages. It highlights the history of police raids in gay bars and arrests of women dressed in trousers and shirts. The pair in the documentary meet when Donahue is around 22 years-old and the catcher for the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, a pro organisation for women. It later shows the course of their love. Incidentally, the All American Girls Professional Baseball League inspired the 1992 popular Penny Marshall film, A League Of Their Own. 

4. Tiger King- Murder, Mayhem and Madness

Directed by Eric Goode and Rebecca Chaiklin, the seven-episode documentary series had netizens gripped and horrified ever since its release on Netflix. The series revolves around the life of Joe Maldonado-Passage, best known as Joe Exotic- now-imprisoned tiger breeder, serving 22-years prison sentence (murder-for-hire and killing five tigers under Endangered Species Act) and former owner of a private zoo in Oklahoma. Apart from his love for big cats, he made headlines during the 2016 US presidential elections and attempted to run for the position of Oklahoma’s Governor. 

While the crux of the story remained about Joe and Carole, the wife of Joe’s nemesis whom he had allegedly paid to be killed, the directors included an unbelievable cast of supporting characters like Doc Antle (owner of the Myrtle Beach Safari), Mario Tabraue (a former Florida drug kingpin), Jeff Lowe (Joe’s ex-business partner), and Kelci ‘Saff’ Saffery (Joe’s employee whose arm was bitten of by a tiger). The film raised eyebrows for being absolutely bizarre and showcasing a wild world where everyone is king.

5. Cursed Films

(credit- Geeks of Doom)

Scared of horror films but still watch it with one eye open? Binge-watching Cursed Films, directed by Jay Cheel, will complement the thrill of watching spooky movies while one holds on tightly to a blanket. The series can be watched on Amazon Prime Video. 

Taking the fear quotient to the next level, the five episodes series covers alleged curses that afflicted the production of notable horror films- The Exorcist (the 1973 film directed by William Friedkin), The Omen (the 1976 film directed by Richard Donner), Poltergeist (the 1982 film directed by Tobe Hooper), Brandon Lee’s death in The Crow (the 1994 film directed by Alex Proyas), and The Twilight Zone Accident in Twilight Zone: The Movie (the 1959 film created by Rod Serling). 

6. Carmel-Who Killed Maria Marta?

A murder in the lush, heavily-secured heaven away from the usual sites of crime and killing, the documentary of the case at the Carmel Bounty Club near Buenos Aires leaves viewers scratching their heads. This four-episodes long series is an investigation to Argentina’s most controversial murder cases. It is directed by Alejandro Hartmann.

The documentary showcases Maria Marta, a 50-year-old sociologist often appearing on her brother Horacio’s TV talk show. Who killed her? Was it the family, her friends or journalists? Was she innocent? The documentary is available on Netflix. 

7. Big Boy Billionaires

The release of Bad Boy Billionaires caused quite a stir in India and cases were filed against the show. The show instantly made it among the top 10 films in Netflix and retained its position for a while. The three-episode documentary shows journalists and experts bringing together the truth of the financial rise an fall of India’s four prominent businessmen- Vijay Mallya (of Kingfisher Airlines), Nirav Modi (of the Gitanjali Group), Subrata Roy (of Sahara India), and Ramalinga Raju (of Satyam Computers). Aside from their obvious opulence, the show dives into the world of corruption and fraud that these four businessmen have involved in. 

If you have not followed each of their stories individually and with a ritualistic inquisitiveness on the news everyday, this show will give you insights on some of the biggest real-life scam-masters and a rotting economic system.

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